Congressional Subcommittee Decries BCS

By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 2, 2009

During a hearing yesterday before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, three members of Congress decried the manner in which college football decides its national champion and warned that government action could be implemented should changes not be made voluntarily by the sport's administrators.

Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Tex.), who has introduced legislation that would prohibit the NCAA from advertising its national champion in football as such unless it was produced via a playoff system, levied the most pointed criticisms of his peers toward the Bowl Championship Series.

"It's interesting that people of good will keep trying to tinker with the current system, and to my mind it's a little bit like -- and I don't mean this directly -- but it's like communism," Barton said in his opening statement. "You can't fix it. It will not be fixable. Sooner or later, you're going to have to try a new model, and that's why we're here today."

Four high-ranking college football officials testified before the subcommittee. Proponents of the current BCS system predicted that renowned bowl games would become endangered if a playoff system was initiated.

"It will be very difficult for any bowl, including the current BCS bowls, which are among the oldest and most established in the game's history, to survive" because sponsorships and television revenue would go toward playoff games, BCS coordinator and ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. "Certainly the 29 games that are not part of the BCS would be in peril."

Six conferences -- the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Pacific-10 and Southeastern -- currently receive automatic bids to play in the BCS bowls. The remaining five division I-A conferences do not. Roughly $18 million is awarded to each conference with an automatic BCS bid; the other five conferences receive far less.

Derrick Fox, the at-large board member of the Football Bowl Association and president and chief executive of the Alamo Bowl, joined Swofford in defense of the current BCS format.

Mountain West Conference Commissioner Craig Thompson and Boise State Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier took the opposite stance. Both claimed the present system robs non-BCS conferences of a realistic chance to win the BCS title before the season even begins.

Boise State, a member of the Western Athletic Conference, has finished the regular season undefeated three times in the past five years. During that span, the Broncos were invited to a BCS bowl game only once. In the Fiesta Bowl following the 2006 regular season, Boise State defeated Oklahoma, 43-42, in overtime.

"How many more years do we have to go undefeated before we get a chance?" Bleymaier said of playing for a national championship.

The BCS title game features the top two teams in the country as decided by a standings formula comprising two voter-based polls and six computer ratings. The MWC recently proposed a playoff format and hired Arent Fox, a Washington-based firm, to lobby Congress on its behalf.

Near the conclusion of yesterday's hearing, Barton asked Swofford if division I-A college football would adopt a playoff system should his legislation be passed into law. Swofford, who afterward said he was not familiar with Barton's legislation, responded that such a scenario had not been discussed "at any level."

"Well, I would encourage you to start discussing it, because I think there is better than a 50 percent chance that if we don't see some action in the next two months on a voluntary switch to a playoff system, that you will see this bill move," Barton said. "So it needs to be something that you need to start discussing."


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